Several times each semester, The Parr Center for Ethics brings a distinguished speaker to campus to lead a discussion about an important ethical issue. A typical Parr Center Presents event lasts for an hour and a half; our guest speaker talks for about 45 minutes and then the audience asks questions in the time remaining. Recent topics of discussion include banking regulations, college athletics, immigration and refugees, and offensive humor.

The Parr Center Presents series is free and open to the public, and we provide pizza for all registered attendees. Please see our schedule for the next event in this series.

Event Summary:

On the 9th of October students and professors greeted each other and passed around pizza in the main lecture hall of UNC’s philosophy department while eagerly waiting for Professor Laurie Shrage to give her talk “Contract Sex: Decriminalization vs. Legalization.”  When it came time for Professor Shrage to begin the hall was filled to the brim as all of the seats were taken and those who were just arriving were forced to stand in the back and even out the door.  As the name implied the talk was on what Professor Shrage calls “contract sex,” meaning sex done under agreement by individuals in a business-like, or formal, manner. Sex workers and contract sex are found in many different countries and can come in various forms and degrees. This idea of contract sex has been a pressing social issue on an international scale and is legal in some countries. During her talk, Professor Shrage advocated for the decriminalization of sex work over the legalization of sex work as she finds criminalizing sex work is disproportionately monitored in lower-income and minority neighborhoods. According to Professor Shrage, the criminalization of sex workers is founded on a basis of social stigma, rather than on actual legal fundamentals. In her talk, Shrage compared the process of decriminalizing contract sex to the process to legalize marijuana in the US. The process towards decriminalization will have to be done overtime and in consistent steps, without ignoring the fact that actions like trafficking and abuse should be criminalized, voiced Professor Shrage.  To conclude, Shrage advocated education about human and civil rights abuse that occurs when (informal) contractual sex acts are a criminal defense and voiced the needs for a plan of legalization after decriminalization.


“Contract Sex: Decriminalization vs. Legalization”   
Why are sex worker rights groups advocating for decriminalizing sex work, but not for legalizing it? In this paper, I will explain why efforts to decriminalize sex work deserve the same support as efforts to decriminalize abortion, marijuana, or non-procreational sex. Many human rights advocates now recognize that decriminalizing sexual transactions which take place among consenting adults in private, including informally contracting for sexual services, is necessary for protecting our fundamental human and civil rights. Yet decriminalizing individual acts of prostitution opens the door to various kinds of organized and public market activities, and there is little consensus among progressive reformers about how wide this door should be pushed opened. A consensus has been forming, nevertheless, among sex worker rights organizations. These groups generally hold that regulatory restrictions specific to sex work (“legalization”), which limit where and how contracting for sexual services can take place, leads to practices that are punitive toward sex workers in ways similar to criminalization. In this paper, I will consider the arguments for decriminalization and against legalization, and argue that accepting levels of governmental oversight above the norm may be a necessary compromise in order to change policies regarding a controversial activity.

Event Powerpoint

Interview between Parr Center Undergraduate Fellow, Jordan Lummus, and Professor Laurie Shrage


Current News on this Subject

About Laurie Shrage

Laurie Shrage is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Florida International University, where she teaches courses including Philosophy and Feminism and Miami Vice or Virtue: Climate Change and Social Ethics. Shrage has authored the books Philosophy About Sex, Abortion and Social Responsibility: Depolarized the Debate and Moral Dilemmas of Feminism: Prostitution, Adultery, and Abortion. Shrage’s research focuses on the politics of abortion and legal gender identity, marriage and feminism.

Other Works with Laurie Shrage: